Riverside soaks up art and culture

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Jason Lin/HIGHLANDER
Jason Lin/HIGHLANDER

“We are all volunteers,” reads a print at the do-it-yourself workshop in downtown Riverside. That line best sums up the massive art-house project that is Saturation Fest.

Saturation Fest is an enormous festival that takes place in downtown Riverside. In the past, it’s lasted for weeks on end, but for this year, it is a three-day sprawl of art, music, literature and street performers — a huge venue filled with a diverse array of artists and entertainers. Indie-rock and alternative underground bands are called in to play from various corners of southern California. Some bands live and practice as close as Irvine and Fullerton, while some bands come all the way from the East Coast. The heart of the project, however, is the city of Riverside.

University Avenue was jam-packed with traffic — even more traffic than that part of the city usually has, from Back to the Grind to Tio’s Tacos. The sidewalks were teeming with life. Street musicians strummed peaceful harmonies and crooned ballads while asking for simple charity to be dropped into tin cans and black top hats. All along the row of buildings were huge masses of people; people eating, walking, smoking and even just standing in the shade of any particular shop, escaping out of the sun and into conversations with strangers and passersby.

Nothing seemed or felt contrived. Everybody looked excited, engaged and happy. A part of the glue that holds these types of important cultural events together isn’t just that one person who shows up simply to show up. Enjoying these events means that, as an outsider looking in, you actively contribute to the very idea that a cultural phenomenon is taking place to begin with. Therefore, to truly care for and participate in this festival, you cannot just be present — you must actively volunteer yourself to engage in the artistic festivities, as much as the artist. It’s as though every face should be saying to one another, “We are all volunteers.”

 At the Blood Orange Infoshop in the Life Arts Center, a handmade print banner reading DIY Print Fest wrapped around a fence, as attendees descended into the heart of the Life Arts Center. As a hub for do-it-yourself culture, it was only fitting that it be the public venue for the 2014 Riverside DIY Print Fest. The DIY Fest is an interactive presentation consisting of workshops, demonstrations and discussions pertaining to print culture, the celebration of the art of books, journals and the printed word.

 Handcrafted arrows and signs led event-goers into a small, gray conference room. Surrealist artwork plastered the four sides of the room enhancing the indie vibe. Self-publishers lined up across the walls, with their artwork on display for exhibition and to be sold. Zines (short for magazines), comic books and printed novels were all up for grabs. Tailored to different tastes, each publisher brought their own flavor and perspective to serious topics of discussion. Topics ranged from coming out as a gay individual to caring for the ocean.

 However, not everything was printed on paper. Nickolas Bahula’s wood prints really stole the show. As if putting a temporary tattoo onto wood, Bahula infused beautiful photographic images onto wooden blocks. In the spirit of independence, Bahula selflessly showed attendees how to create their own wooden prints by creating promotional blocks that he handed out for free. Across from him, his partner Jeff Ribaudo demonstrated how to create black prints.

Past the Blood Orange Infoshop, one could experience the long-lasting but small music festival contained in Back to the Grind, a large coffee shop and venue that served as the location for the Honey Pop Hop music festival. Everything from the art pieces on the walls and tables to the wooden furniture and massive bookshelves made the place a true standout by providing a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. One could be pleasantly surprised with the venue alone, alongside its peaceful, hipster allure.

 There were well over 20 musical acts that played alone in Back to the Grind. One of the groups to set up and play was an all-female duo that went by the name The Stupid Daikini. The audience all easily took a seat on one of the chairs and listened to the band play, where the lead singer played a ukulele, alongside the drummer. Despite the pair’s odd style of music, which contained elements of folk and rock, the audience was blown away by the powerful lead singer, who was able to project her voice throughout the entire venue as well as hit high notes that would put most singers to shame. The crowd enjoyed the performance as well, with their enthusiastic cheering and obvious support for the band. Never was there a small number of people throughout the entire set. In fact, the number of people never ceased to grow throughout the different performances played each day. People of all ages constantly flocked in to see the numerous bands. There was never a dull moment throughout the entire musical festival.

 The venue had two stages, one upstairs and the other downstairs, which allowed for the next band to start playing immediately after the previous one finished. This made the Honey Pop Hop event, as well as other events, quick-paced and lively the entire time, despite it lasting over eight hours. The event featured numerous bands that ranged from small local groups such as So Many Wizards to locally well-known and established bands such as The Summer Twins and Naive Thieves. It was clear that these bands were the ones bringing in the larger crowds — during the performance of Naive Thieves a massive group of people crowded in front of the stage. The second the band started playing, every single person in the crowd started jumping up and down and dancing to the music. The energetic and infectious music had the entire crowd dancing to the beat in complete unison. It was performances like these that made Honey Pop Hop such a memorable event. Other standout performances included bands such as Eva and The Vagabonds with their Bohemian and polka-inspired music, Michael Rey and The Woebegones with their blues-infused rock and The Summer Twins with their uplifting and irresistible pop surf rock.

The presence of Saturation Fest allows the city of Riverside to foster and develop its rich history, as well as the local arts and music scene. From the broken earth surrounding Tio’s Tacos to the long-standing Fox Theater, every inch of the ground contributed to the ambiance of the festivities. Every individual in Saturation Fest can believe that he or she is contributing to something greater than themselves, something that will help cement the legacy of the arts and music scene that Riverside is slowly building up as a city.

 

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